From jazz to pop, rock to country, Kenny Rogers’ talents know no bounds. Aside from his days of singing famed duets with Dolly Parton, many remember him from the jazz group Bobby Doyle Trio, to the New Christy Minstrels, or even his work with The First Edition (think “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” a la “The Big Labowski). Most will agree he hit his stride with country. Named for one of Rogers’ greatest hits, “The Gambler,” a tribute to the legend will debut at TheatreNOW Friday, July 18th, with Tim Sells sporting the coif, beard and suit many have come to recognize.
A member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Rogers has charted over 120 singles. He is one of the highest selling artists of all time, selling almost 165 million records worldwide. Sells’ started the daunting task of bringing Rogers’ music to life onstage since 2011, after having performed as a musician and acrtor for 30 years across the U.S. and Virgin Islands.
“After a visit to some of my friends who perform for Legends in Concert at Myrtle Beach, one of them asked if I had ever thought about growing a beard, because I could really pass for Rogers” Sells explains. “Needless to say, the beard began, and I pulled out all my Rogers and the First Edition albums and cassettes.”
Sells has been named one of the top three tribute artists in North Carolina by the Charlotte Music Awards. Performing in other locations across the southeast, he has brought his tribute to private parties, fundraisers and even larger events. He’s performed at the Bent Mountain Center, Wahlfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre in Virginia, and the North Carolina Apple Festival. He also has played Legends in Concert shows from Virginia down to Georgia.
“Kenny has been recording music recording music for almost six decades,” Sells describes. “Performing as Rogers is an awesome rush, as I get to see audience members connect with songs that bring back memories of love, great times, and fun when they hear that certain song again.”
Featuring “The Gambler,” other songs vary from show to show. In the past Sells’ set list has included “You Decorate My Life,” “Buy Me a Rose” and “Islands in the Stream.”
“I’m a sucker for the old Kenny and Dolly duets and as a child of the ‘70s and ‘80s,” Sells says. “I love ‘Lady’ and ‘The Gambler.’’ Sells also enjoys performing “Lucille” and “Ruby.” “These two seem to get a lot of sing a long at every show,” he adds. In fact, audience interaction makes the show the most enjoyable—for everyone involved.
“I think Rogers said it best when he commented, ‘I want everyone to be able to leave at the end of the show saying, ‘That was fun.’ I don’t want anyone to not feel a part of the show,” Sells tells. “I want the audience to singalong, hum along, clap along, and laugh along.”
The audience can expect nothing less than a full “Rogers” performance. Sells has honed in on many of the legend’s mannerisms and stage craft. “I try to bring the style that makes Rogers the musical icon he has become over the past 50 years,” Sells comments. “I think that to vary or take creative liberties from that is denying the audience what they expect.”
Sells has been in the Wilmington area previously; however, it will be his first time performing at TheatreNOW. “I know its history and the great list of performers Alisa Harris and Zach Hanner have brought in,” he tells. “I am so honored to have my name added to that list.”
At this particular performance, Chef Denise Gordon will provide myriad Southern-style options as part of the dinner-and-a-show. The first course will comprise Kenny’s Chopped Salad with Mama’s ranch dressing served with a bread basket and honey butter. The main course will include a choice between blackened catfish with Bayou tarter sauce, vegetarian or regular Brunswick stew, or a roasted half chicken. The meal will finish off with Mississippi Mud Pie Marries a Moon Pie and Makes a Baby Cake, which will contain Oreo, graham cookie crust, brownie cake, chocolate pudding, and marshmallow cream. Tickets for both the show and dinner are $24 for children and $38 for adults. The show runs for two weekends, Friday and Saturday only.
The Gambler: A Tribute to Kenny Rogers
TheatreNOW, 19 S. 10th St.
Fri.- Sat., July 18th- 19th, 25th-26th, 6:30 p.m.